24 March 2019

Zimbabwe: Let Us Avoid Disease in Chimanimani

editorial

Reports filtering in from Cyclone Idai disaster areas yesterday included fears of a cholera outbreak which is said to be raising its ugly head in neighbouring Mozambique.

As it is, there is no physical demarcation between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the flood-ravaged areas and fears of cholera moving into the country are real.

Prevailing conditions in Chimanimani are ripe for disease outbreaks and, given the known history of our capacity to deal with health disasters, the prospect of a cholera outbreak is too ghastly to contemplate.

We could easily lose far more lives than have been taken by the deadly cyclone.

It is, therefore, critical that the government is not caught napping as it was when Idai struck. The government must, without delay, pull all the plugs and deploy its every effort to prevent the eventuality of a disease outbreak in Manicaland, especially in Chimanimani and areas where the disease is said to have surfaced.

We commend the government for declaring the tragedy a national disaster, but what we now call for is President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his colleagues in government to prevent further loss of life.

We do not expect to hear excuses and explanations once again. Government should waste no time in making immediate provision of safe drinking water, food, medicines and general health care in Chimanimani.

International health organisations have already warned that fears of the spread of cholera and other infectious diseases among survivors of the cyclone are real. Many thousands of people are presently living in flooded and unsanitary conditions, ripe for the outbreak of cholera and other waterborne diseases. Malaria and measles could also be lurking in these areas and it requires government and other stakeholders to put all hands on deck in order to prevent and to respond to any outbreak.

In this endeavour, the Health ministry should be seen to be taking the leading role in proactive visibility in the disaster areas. Medical teams must be quickly deployed to vaccinate people against preventable diseases while the government's Civil Protection Department should, together with the national security services, take over from villagers the search and burial of the disaster victims.

Leaving ill-equipped villagers to scavenge through muddy rubble with their bare hands exposes them to disease. The villagers themselves require help and protection as most of them are now living in squalid temporary shelters without safe drinking water and sanitation.

Meanwhile, we commend the touching display of human kindness by ordinary Zimbabweans who have come together in their individual capacities to donate in cash and kind towards the alleviation of the tragedy in Chimanimani.

We now expect to see the government showing better responsibility by making sure the country does not unnecessarily lose more lives. We also expect Sadc to show that it cares about the people of this region and plead with the international community to come to the rescue of the stricken countries.

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